There was not a ruling to bring water into the Oakdale Irrigation District canal system, but the OID Board of Directors unanimously agreed to waive all fees associated with canal conveyance and to provide ditch tender services at no cost to assist farmer to farmer water transfers at the Jan. 17 regular meeting.
Some farmers are currently pumping private well water to irrigate their crops or to send to other farmers due to a lack of rain and they use OID canals to move the water to different areas. OID also rents its deep wells for $30 per acre foot pumped, a lower rate than it costs the farmers to run their own deep wells.
“We have all of our deep wells for rent… We think the (water) need is being met,” said OID General Manager Steve Knell.
Knell pointed out that other irrigation districts in other watersheds adjacent to OID, such as Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts that are allowing their constituents to irrigate, have different water rights. OID and South San Joaquin Irrigation District equally share a maximum annual allotment of 600,000 acre feet out of New Melones Reservoir. SSJID has the ability to hold some of its water in Woodward Reservoir.
Current inflows to date at New Melones are interestingly the same as the 15-year average at about 167,000 acre feet, Knell noted.
“That shows the strength of the (prior winter) snowpack up there,” he said. “We’re still getting benefits from that snowpack.”
However, New Melones inflows are dropping and if there’s no rain, Knell said OID could be starting the regular irrigation season with somewhere around 200,000 acre feet.
He reported to the board some of the ways that OID can “save” water. Those included turning on the deep water pumps by March 1, which will generate approximately 15,000 acre feet; not making any out-of-district water available, which adds about another 15,000 acre feet; no 10-day rotations, which also saves a similar amount.
Knell added that the district has noticed some accounting irregularities on the part of the Bureau of Reclamation, which controls New Melones, regarding the water releases from July through the end of November. He said OID is in discussion with the BOR on what the district believes are erroneous debits from its conservation water account.
District staff members noted that landowners have been using the deepwater pumps quite a bit but that many of them are now waiting for the rain instead. Rain is expected to come at the end of this week.
“If the rain wasn’t coming in Friday, I’d have a different opinion (about bringing water into the system,” said director Steve Webb.
Director Herman Doornenbal said that they need to ask if the water is going to be more valuable to the farmers right now or next summer. He said he thinks most farmers will agree they need it more in the summer.
There was also discussion about the board needing to adopt a “drought level” per the Surface Water Shortage Policy by March 1 in order to manage the season if it doesn’t rain.
“Hopefully it’s going to rain like hell and this won’t be an issue,” Knell said.
OID will know its water allocation from the BOR by April 15.
In other discussion, Knell discussed with the board the district’s legal differences with Knights Ferry historical water users and the recent appellate court opinion. A trial court decision was rendered in the fall of 2009 that granted OID approximately 80 percent of what was at stake. The Knights Ferry group appealed and the court opinion was filed earlier this month, siding with OID in additional matters. Knell said that Knights Ferry has a superior, 1853 water right. Historic Knights Ferry water users are to have five cubic feet per second (cfs). Four cfs of continuous flow goes to the agriculture component in Knights Ferry, where the definition of continuous flow is to be March 1 through Sept. 30. In drought, Knights Ferry will get four cfs, Knell said. The OID board decided to have closed session discussion with their counsel on how they will implement the court’s directions. Director Al Bairos recused himself from the meeting discussion.
The next regular meeting of the OID Board of Directors will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7 in the OID boardroom, 1205 East F.